New blood pressure study suggests new approach needed

A new study published in the Lancet medical journal on the treatment of high blood pressure and the drugs used to control it indicates that physicians may need to change their approach.

Currently, the accepted practice in determining a patient’s risk of stroke or heart attack is to take the average of several pressure readings over a period of time.  Thus, if the results of several tests include one high and the rest low or normal, drug treatment would probably not be recommended.

The new studies concluded that people whose blood pressure varied the most, with spikes of high pressure and other periods of low or normal pressure were most likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke, six times more likely than those with relatively stable pressure.  Those with the highest spikes appeared to be at greatest risk overall.

The findings of this study need further research and clarification, however.  Though the study was comprehensive and reliable, it was not specifically designed to measure the extent of blood pressure variations in individuals, or how much that variation might affect their risk of heart attack.  In addition, the two drugs most commonly used, beta-blockers and calcium-channel blockers, work on different aspects of the condition.

In general terms, beta-blockers serve to lower blood pressure by blocking reception of stimuli to the heart and blood vessels so the heartbeat becomes stronger and slower.

Calcium-channel blockers help prevent the constriction of blood vessels, thereby improving blood flow to the heart.  Both drugs are effective in combating high blood pressure, but one may work better than the other to prevent strokes and heart attacks.